Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return Is a Beautiful Thing

Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return Is A Beautiful Thing: MST3K The Return may have some new faces, but the original spirit of the show is intact in the 2017 Netflix reboot. It doesn’t stink.

When I had the amazing pleasure of interviewing Mystery Science Theater 3000’s (aka MST3K) Joel Hodgson back in 2013, I decided to ask if there was any chance of his groundbreaking show returning to the air, perhaps as a streaming series on Netflix.

Rather than acting annoyed at a question he must have been asked hundreds of times, the series creator/original host said: yeah, it would be really cool to do it again. I think if I got in the position to do it, I’d want to do it with a new cast y’know and give someone else a shot at it? Put in people who were like our age when we started, because I was like 28 when we started, so I’d probably do something like that.

Joel Hodgson with his Satellite of Love Pals

At the time, the rights to the series belonged to producer Jim Mallon, and Joel’s hands were tied. But here we are, five years and one record-breaking Kickstarter campaign later. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back in action as a Netflix original series (Called it!).

When the announcement for a new series was first made, I had the response that many MSTie’s did: Awesome! But…what if it sucks? Maybe my nostalgic love for MST3K would make me naturally predisposed for disappointment? Revivals are a tricky thing, and the batting average isn’t so good.

Click here for my 2013 review of Joel Hodgson’s Riffing Myself

I’ve read several online reveries from fans who first saw the series when they were a teenager or a kid. If you fall in that group, you make me feel old and I don’t like you. But I digress.

I was in college when I first saw MST3K, back when it aired on the Comedy Channel (before it was re-branded as Comedy Central).

I was immediately hooked–they watched bad movies–I loved bad movies! They goofed on them with weird pop culture references–so did I! Win, win. It felt like an average weekend I’d spend with friends after picking up an amazing turd from the video store.

Click here for my list of Top 10 MST3K Episodes 

Sure Joel and the bots (and later Mike and the bots) were off in deep space aboard the Satellite of Love, but it felt like they were hanging out with us, watching glorious celluloid junk together into the wee morning hours.

I was gutted when the show was cancelled (for the second time–after being moved to the Sci-Fi network), but thanks to copious DVD box sets and cast offshoots like Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic, MST3K never went away.  And that’s not even giving the show credit for inspiring countless other television shows and internet culture. It’s cultural footprint is Amazing Colossal Man size.

So to have it back, even in a different incarnation is fabulous. New host Jonah Ray is a perfect fit, while Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughan make fine robot cohorts (as Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo respectively).

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt

The new Mads are also solid: Alicia Day and Patton Oswalt keep the proceedings lively, while also noting the nostalgia territory that MST3K The Return delicately and gracefully treads upon. The set design is wonderful as well: shinier and more HD friendly, but still with that homespun, handcrafted Hodgson sense of design.

Yes, there are some growing pains–the pilot had some wonky exposition, and there’s a bit of nervous rapid fire delivery during the first film, the Danish 60’s monster movie Reptilicus. But it improves as it goes along, and by the second episode, the instant classic Cry, Wilderness, its clear they’re finding their groove.

Hodgson provides plenty of connective tissue in his executive producer and co-writing role. There’s classic MST3K call-back references among more current pop-culture minutia. I’m halfway through the new season and its been largely smooth sailing (seeing them riff on hideous Star Wars knockoff Starcrash is a particular highlight). Not every joke lands of course. But that’s always been the case with the show. That’s part of its awkward charm.

Mike Nelson and co.

And for anyone complaining about having a new host (or bots)–we’ve been there before: the Joel and Mike eras each have their strengths, as have the various vocal performers.

The MST3K revival couldn’t come at a better time. Life is stressful as of late. Just watch the news–things feel shakier than ever. There’s a sense of volatility, despair and political polarization that is as depressing as it worrisome, so there’s something enormously comforting about having the laid back escapism only MST3K can offer to help soften the blow.

I may be in my mid-40s, but when my wife and I watch these new episodes after putting our toddler to bed, it feels like old times. It brought me back to those days of fewer responsibilities. Watching cinematic junk food has a way of keeping you young at heart.

I notice that towards the end of Reptilicus, I began nodding off, only to awake to the tranquil closing theme. That may seem like an insult to the talent involved on the new MST3K. I can assure you it’s not. Even the tail end of classic episodes often lulled me to sleep in the third act. It’s comfort food. I felt at ease with a new cast that maintains that welcoming vibe that made the show so inviting in the first place. In the words of the title theme: just repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax. 

What a relief, and a delight to have Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in business. Turn down your lights (where applicable). They got this.

Some MTS3K related goodies on Amazon: 

About SLIS

Middle Aged Gen-Exer obsessed with Alternative rock, metal, cult movies, comic books and cable TV.

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